The President As Pitchman

Last week President Obama went down to Disney World to tout tourism in America and got his picture taken with the Disney castle in the background.

The trip was part of the President’s “We Can’t Wait” campaign, in which he does things by himself that are supposed to promote job growth and show that we have an active executive but a do-nothing Congress.  In this case, the presidential action was expanding the “Global Entry Program,” which makes it easier for frequent visitors to get into our country, and to direct the State Department “to accelerate our ability to process visas by 40 percent in China and in Brazil this year.”  The President noted that the more foreign visitors come to America, the more Americans get back to work.

The President’s “I can do it myself” campaign leaves me cold.  I always wonder why he hasn’t already done the things he’s now announcing with such fanfare.  He’s been President for three years.  Why wasn’t the Global Entry Program expanded back in 2009?  Why did he wait so long to direct the State Department to get off its duff and “accelerate our ability to process visas”?  For that matter, why not “accelerate our ability” by 80 percent instead of a measly 40 percent?

In this case, I had a negative reaction to the President’s speech for another reason.  I know that tourism has been an important part of our economy for years, but I never recall a President trying to entice foreigners to come here and spend, spend, spend.  My reaction to the President’s event was one of embarrassment — because our national leader seems to be begging those go-getter Chinese, Brazilians, and Indians to bring their new wealth to America and help us get back on our feet.  It struck me as not befitting the dignity of the presidency.  I also wonder:  if the President is going to promote Florida tourist destinations to our friends overseas, can a commercial for GM cars be far behind?

Tightrope Walkers And Tourist Dollars

The New York legislature has voted to approve a request by Nik Wallenda, a member of the well-known family of daredevils, to tightrope walk across the Niagara Falls.  Wallenda would take a 2,200-foot walk above the falls, which are 180 feet high.  New York’s Governor still needs to approve the request, as do Canadian authorities.

Niagara Falls, of course, has a long and colorful history of foolish stunts and daredevil activities.  Everyone knows of publicity-seekers who sought to go over the thundering waterfalls in a barrel.  Some lived, many died.  For many years, such stunts have been outlawed.

In view of that prohibition, why would New York legislators vote to allow a tightrope walk over the gorge?  The answer seems to be that such a stunt is likely to increase tourist interest in the Falls — even if by sick individuals hoping to witness a tragic accident — and thereby increase tourism-related revenues for the state.  In short, the state is willing to sanction ultra-dangerous activities if they may have a positive economic impact on the state’s coffers.

Does anyone else think it is absurd that a paternalistic nanny state that will fine you for driving a car without wearing a seatbelt is happy to approve hazardous daredevil activities, so long as they may produce revenue and enhance tourism?

Help Needed In Showcasing Columbus

We’re being visited for the weekend by a friend who is new to Columbus.  They are from an urban, East Coast location and have never been to the Midwest, so they already are enjoying the charms of backyards, green grass, white fences, and rolling countryside.

But what distinguishes Columbus from other Midwestern towns that have those same features?  How do we showcase our fair city?  Having never been to Columbus as a tourist, I don’t have the slightest idea of what tourists do when they visit.  We’ve suggested Easton Town Center, the Wexner Center, the Short North, and German Village.  It’s not football season, so an OSU game is out.  The Ohio State Fair hasn’t started yet.  What else?  The Ohio Statehouse?  The Arena District?  The Park of Roses?  It makes me realize that so much of what I really like about Columbus is not showy landmarks, but instead the people and the pace.

Am I missing anything?  I’d appreciate any suggestions!

The Arnold Hits Downtown Columbus

The Arnold Sports Festival has returned to downtown Columbus, bigger and better than ever.  It is the one weekend each year where we pencil-necked, out-of-shape downtown office workers feel like we live in an oversized world of gigantic professional wrestlers who sport bulging biceps and barrel chests under tight-fitting clothing.

The Arnold, which runs through tomorrow, is a tremendous boon for Columbus and local businesses.  It is estimated that visitors to The Arnold will spend more than $42 million during their stay in Columbus.  It brings lots of visitors to town from all over the world, and it features events all day at five different venues in the area. Those of us who work in downtown Columbus can see the economic impact firsthand — increased car traffic, increased foot traffic, and lots of activity at hotels and restaurants.

Yesterday Richard, JV and I went to have lunch at the North Market — which is one block away from the Columbus Convention Center, the hub of The Arnold — and the area was jammed with cars and Arnold attendees.  As we left, we saw people lugging huge sacks of product they had purchased from the many retail stalls at The Arnold. I have to believe that, if you are a business selling fitness-related products, The Arnold is the highlight of the year.  The attendees are people who are really serious about body-building, or fencing, or kick-boxing, and they will spend liberally in pursuit of their passion.  We Columbusites welcome them all.

A Visit To Oakland

Work took me to Oakland, California this past week.  It’s the first time I’ve visited that fair city.

The marina at Jack London Square

I stayed at a downtown hotel and had a chance to walk around a bit.  I visited Jack London Square, which is a development on the waterfront.  Unfortunately, a walk down Broadway from the center of downtown to Jack London Square takes you through a sketchy neighborhood and under a highway overpass, through a dark area that is liberally coated with bird droppings and probably is a haven for homeless people at night. From a city planning standpoint, it is unfortunate that visitors can’t simply walk from downtown to what is intended to be a destination area without seeing the underside of the city.

"Cheemah, Mother of the Spirit-Fire"

Jack London Square itself is nice, with a boat docking area, a marina, and an interesting view of the industrial docks nearby.  It has the kind of restaurants and entertainment options you would expect, as well as some curious public art.  (The piece shown in the photograph at right, called “Cheemah, Mother of the Spirit-Fire,” seems a bit over-the-top in its overt symbolism.)  I found myself wondering how well the area is doing, however.  I was there shortly before lunch on a Thursday, and the Square was pretty much deserted.  In fairness, though, the middle of September probably isn’t the high tourist season in Oakland.

Oakland also has a colorful and very interesting “Old Oakland” section that features some beautiful buildings that look like they date from the turn of the century.  The architecture of the area is replete with the distinct touches and flourishes you would expect in buildings constructed in a vibrant, rapidly growing city of that era.  It appears that modern-day Oakland is trying to rejuvenate the area.  From my walk-through, I’d say it is worth the effort — but I think establishing a feeling of personal security among visitors will be an issue in that area as well.

One of the interesting buildings in Old Oakland

My exploration also took me through Oakland’s “Chinatown” section, which seems to be a vibrant area where lots of people were out and about, and around the newer part of downtown, which features memorable structures like the Oakland Tribune clock tower, the municipal building, and a lavish complex of new federal buildings.  The area near the federal buildings includes a pedestrian mall with an outdoor eating area, restaurants, and shops.  It was a busy place Thursday afternoon, but was pretty much deserted when I walked by Wednesday night at around 7 p.m.

Oakland reminded me of many cities in the Midwest: a once thriving blue-collar city that is trying to deal with an aging downtown, the departure of businesses to greener pastures, a considerable homeless population, and tough economic times.